Travel Dance Video: Bestiemoon Take Deux

So, I have sat down multiple times to write about our amazing trip to France. If you don't know what I am talking about, let me get you up to speed. My friend Melissa is a world traveler. She has friends and connections all over the place, enough airline points to make you hate her just a little, (except you can't because she's so stinkin' generous with them), and she doesn't take no for an answer. So, she essentially manhandles me into taking epic vacations with her. It's a terrible friendship and this whole post is basically a cry for help. 

Okay, for realsies... the trip was fabulous.  The only reason I haven't written about it yet is because Melissa and I are going to tell the story together on video because I promise it will be so much better that way. We were in Paris for a few days, then popped over to Finland for a few days, then back to Paris, then to Provence (where my world changed and I got in touch with my roots in a major way) then back to Paris for the last few days. I ate croissants to celebrate the life and memory of my beautiful friend Karolin who commanded me to go to Paris and have fun. So we had the most fun.

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And, we danced. 

We danced all over Europe. Usually at inappropriate times. We danced with new friends and perfect strangers and our French and Finnish hosts. 

And we made a video of it. Because I secretly want us to host our own travel show and making an absurd travel dance video seemed as good a means to that end as any.

What you are about to experience is a bit of an early Christmas gift. So, Merry Christmas to all and to all a You're Welcome.

Love, Tom, Melissa and Lara 

The Final Au Revoir

In the month of October, I traveled to NYC for a birth parent visit, to Michigan to surprise my mom for Halloween, did four speaking engagements and 31 days of kindness. During all of that, we were also privately waiting while our friend Karolin finished her battle with leukemia. You may remember Karolin from Day 4, where I described her as a brave warrior. Well, she was. And while her body lost that battle yesterday, her soul won, as she is now safely home with her Heavenly Father.

When I told Jay that our sweet friend (his "ice cream buddy") wasn't going to get better, he paused for a moment as if looking for a solution then said "Jesus can hold her!" That was my goodbye to Karolin on Wednesday... kisses, hugs, lots of tears, just enough complimenting her to get an exaggerated, slow-motion eye roll, and a few reminders. Namely, that Jesus is waiting to hold her.

I told her that she did so well. She did well at life, and she did well at approaching death. She did it all with incredible faith and grace. I told her that she still looked smokin' hot (insert that 60 second eye roll here). I told her that she is loved. And I told her that Jesus could hold her.

And then he did. Yesterday evening, after four years of battling this thief of a disease, and after being tenderly held and cared for around the clock by Carrie. Jesus allowed these two to be parted so that he could take over the holding. Never in my life have I seen someone care so diligently for another. While Carrie was not Karolin's "mom" in the traditional sense, she was the only mom Karolin had on this earth. As a mother to both biological children and children who belonged to a different mama first, I have it on pretty good authority to say that a mother can come in a variety of different forms, and Carrie was Karolin's in every conceivable way. This could not have been more evident in these past four years.

When I met Karolin 10 years ago, she was best friends with Lexi (who has become one of my best friends) and I only ever knew her as an extension of Carrie. I have never been to a place that Karolin lived that wasn't in or attached to Carrie's house. I have never walked into one of Karolin's countless hospital rooms without signs of Carrie (or Carrie herself) all over the place. She loved and cared for Karolin just as any mother would, maybe a little better even. Watching she and Lexi relentlessly care for, advocate for, and love on such a precious girl was truly a gift to see. A nightmarish, devastating, heart-wrenching and beautifully inspiring gift.

And today I am sad. Just so unbelievably sad. But despite the overwhelming desire to stay in bed with the covers over my head, and cry about my friend, and cry for my friends who are crying about their friend... I will be boarding a plane to Paris. It is the stupidest thing to write about these two starkly different things happening today, but I do primary content. And this is my primary content. My friend just died of leukemia and I am going to Paris. This trip was a gift given to me back in June for my birthday, from Tom and my friend Melissa. They surprised me with a ticket for Melissa and I to take another "bestiemoon." But as it turns out, the flights were so reasonable at the time that Melissa and I decided to surprise Tom on Father's Day with his own ticket and permission to crash our bestiemoon. So, the three of us are heading to France.

I feel all the things. I feel torn about leaving while my friends and family are grieving this enormous loss. I feel exhausted and sick and beyond sad. I feel crushed. But Karolin, Carrie and Lexi all told me to go. And while I am under no assumption that any of them actually need me here, I feel terrible about going right now. Their enthusiastic permission has allowed me to come out from under the covers and get out of bed and pack up my stuff to go. And much like I spent October running all over the place, doing all sorts of crazy things in honor of a kindhearted young life that I so adored... I will spend November doing much of the same.

Only I will do it France.

For these three.

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Day 31: Circles Over Rows

My church has this saying they use when talking about what church should really be like, they say "circles are better than rows." What we mean by this, is that as a church, we believe that life (or life change) doesn't happen when people are sitting in pews or rows at church. Rather, we believe that life happens, community happens, when we are sitting around in a circle. This is why our church has Community Groups - where we sit together, eat together, talk and share life together, every week. Not on a Sunday, and not in a row, and not at a church... but we meet throughout the week too, in our homes, and we circle around with each other in a way that is more intimate, and more authentic than it could ever possibly be on a Sunday morning in a church building. It's how Jesus did church and it's what works for real life change and growth in faith.

Circles. They are better than rows.

There are some species of animals that only survive because of circles. The matriarch of a herd of African elephants, for example, will - when sensing danger - form a protective circle with other mature elephants to surround the youngest and most vulnerable elephants in the herd. The circle, which can sometimes be severel layers deep, serves as a barrier that protects their young from harm. 

Circles. They are safer than rows.

I have always been a circle kind of a girl. I love doing life with people. I love hearing and learning from others' stories of loss and love and redemption. I love to open my life and let people look inside of it, to correct wrong thinking, to steady me, to challenge me to grow, to comfort me. You can't do any of that in a row. It can only happen in a circle. 

Circles, are more effective than rows.

Time is more like a row. Time is linear. Grief, not so much. Grief is more like a circle. It has a natural rythm, it is cyclical, and fluid and it never ends. Sure, it may seem to pass for a while, only to circle back around again. The return of grief is the most certain part of it.

Circles. They are harder than rows. 

I have felt a lot like the little elephant inside the protective circle this month. So many of you have surrounded me and my family with love and support and encouragement. This great circle of grief might always orbit around me, but ouside of that, is another, much greater, circle. It is made up of friends, and neighbors, and former teachers and coaches. This circle around me is several layers deep, and it is comprised of perfect strangers and friends of friends, and people who knew my brother and people who did not. Just like grief, this protective community of people around me has no end. 

For Day 31, I was able to connect with some of these people. I went home to Michigan to surprise my family. Although, on this side of heaven, my mom will never have the gift of having all four of her children in one place, it was healing for her to have all her living children and grandchildren together on the night that she lost her son. We were her circle. 

I surprise visited a few family members and old friends, none of whom expected to see me, and I hope considered it a pleasant surprise. And I had the opportunity to visit my alma mater, Grand Haven High School, and had a Q&A with staff and students.

It was a great time of discussion and visiting and felt way more like a kindness to myself than to any of them. It was strange to see my old school, and Adam's old friends who are now the coaches and teachers. It was surreal, but it was good to see yet another layer to that great protective circle.

Circles. They are greater, more impactful, more powerful, more meaningful than rows.

So, Day 31 was no grand gesture of kindness. I simply gave the gift of reconnection. It was a gift to myself as much as anyone on the receiving end, I'm certain. Still, I think that connection is powerful and life-changing and as I think about the immense and powerful hold that grief can have on someone who is facing forward, alone, in a row... I am so thankful that I am in a great circle, and that I am covered. When I feel the pull of grief, tugging my soul into a place that is too dark to face alone, I am covered in prayer. When I feel the shame of suriving, or feeling stuck in this long process of healing, I am covered in grace. When I am grasping for an anchor to ground me, I am covered in love. When I fall short, evey minute of the day in some way or another, I am covered in mercy. And when I am not sure how to bring something beautiful out of something so sinister, I am covered in your kindness.

And when I am missing my brother, and I withdraw and sit alone, defiantly facing foward in what feels very much like a row, God (in his infinite wisdom and relentless pursiut of my affections) begins to sweetly bend that row around me until I am right back in a circle. And the circle is made of layer upon layer of new brothers and more sisters and the whole body of Christ working to protect our weakest and most vulerable. And we shift and take turns recieving cover and protection as we all cycle through our times of grief, and we move and we make room for new members of the herd.

Because circles, are more lasting, more transformative, and more life-giving than rows.

Day 30: We Are Not Blocked

After staring at a blinking curser for the past forty minutes, I have decided that I am just going to tell you the truth. It's not like I have writer's block, in fact I don't think I have ever experienced writer's block. Only real, official writer's get "writer's block." I would have something more like "stay-at-home-mom who wants to be a real writer someday and pretends to be a writer and might even call herself a writer when she is on an airplane and can pretend to be anyone...block." But, even then, I don't know if I have had it. When I don't write, or can't write, it's not for lack of ideas. If I am not writing it is because I tend to only write primary content - the stuff I am really living through and experiencing right now. If my primary content is too hard or too private, then I won't write. But, I don't usually feel blocked.

Today though, is a different sort of thing. It's hard for me to write today because I feel like I have already written it all before. I have been doing #AdamsActs for a while now, and I have shared my private memories, my secret feelings, and all the griefs. This is the hardest part of blogging about a story that does not change. I am out of material. I am blocked.

Remember a couple years back, when I told you all about Adam being such a phenomenal wrestler that his teammates called him "Pinner"? And then I told you how they called me "Lil' Pinner" because I followed him everywhere and looked a lot like him? Yeah, well nothing has changed since then. That still happened, it still breaks my heart, and I already wrote about it. 

I just feel blocked.

I already told you that my heart breaks in fresh ways every time someone asks me how many brothers and sisters I have. That is still true. I already told you that it took me years to forgive myself for going skiing with some friends instead of celebrating Adam's last birthday with him. That is still true. I already told you that if I could go back and celebrate his life for one last time, I would give anything to make a different choice. I still regret it. I already told you that he would dance in hammer pants around the house, and that he taught me to forgive and to think independently. All still true, all still not nearly enough. 

There is so little left that I haven't told you. And I don't know if I want to tell any more. Because ya know what, this is all I have left of him. I do not get fresh material to draw from. I do not get new stories to share, new memories with him, or some totally new perspective on grief and loss. This is it. This is all I have. I have already shared everything that I was given. And when I start pressuring myself and I catch myself feeling like I am disappointing all of you by not bringing something new to the table I start to feel a sort of anger burn deep within me.... an anger that screams back that nobody wants new stories to share, nobody wants more memories, nobody wants another birthday... more than me, more than my family.

And so, this is it. This is the truth. I have already told you almost everything. I have hesitantly and tentatively opened my hand and shared with all of you the most sacred bits of my story. Our time with Adam was so very brief, and as the youngest, I had the least time with him. So, in a way I am blocked. That is what happens when a life is cut short. When a bright, brilliant light is shut off, there is only the vague memory of it and everything else goes dark.

It's easier, trust me, to sit in that darkness. It is easier to call it writer's block, and to stop sharing and to just let myself be sad. But, I refuse to stay here in the dark when God has made it pretty darn clear that we are supposed to use our stories and to be the light of this world. And so, it's true, there is nothing new to share about Adam. It's true that I have said it all before.

But, as long as these old memories of mine hold truths that help this dark world glow just a little warmer, a little brighter, I will keep sharing them. And I won't put pressure on myself to share new things, because I don't have the luxury of making new memories with Adam. But, what I have is primary content. I have this day. And today, was a good day.

For Day 30, Tom and I packed up all five kids and drove to Michigan to surprise my mom. Today we all hung out, the cousins played, and my mom had all her kids and grandkids together under one roof. It was a good day. And while it's true that Adam's story doesn't change... ours is still being written. Today I sat with my nephew, Adam,  who will be 17 in a few days, who was named after his beloved Uncle, and we talked about school and sports and life and his future. His story is still being written.

I watched my nephew, Tyson, play soccer a lot like his Uncle Adam did. And afterwards we all played together, and we ran and wrestled and clicked our heels and got tangled in the soccer nets... and I could see that our story was still being written. I can see that while Adam's story ended, it is still woven into us so profoundly that it continues on in its own way. 

We are not blocked. We have gone through hell and back as a family, but our story is good. And it is still being written. 

Day 27: Tantrum Acts of Kindness

Day 27 was a cold one. We woke up to a dark, snowy morning and since we all know that #iquitwhenitscold I was not thrilled for the winter to pop by this early in the season. And while my hibernation intincts to store food in my pillowcase and just hole up til spring were kicking in like nobody's business, I pushed through to the bright side. And the bright side is that I have waited for a snowy October day for forever! I have dreamed of bringing hot chooclate to the crossing guard near the middle school on the first really cold day of the year. And it was finally here! And I knew just the right person to treat! This guy is a little bit older, and he singlehandedly mans the busiest intersection in the neighborhood. 

So, when I woke up to this:

I call this Phase 1: Frosted Mini Wheat Snow. It gets worse, and there are many levels of torture involved, but this is the beginning. 

I call this Phase 1: Frosted Mini Wheat Snow. It gets worse, and there are many levels of torture involved, but this is the beginning. 

I decided to make the best of it. I would bring the crossing guard a hot drink on the first really cold day of the year. This guy is faithfully out at that intersection every single morning, and every single afternoon all year long. 

Except for today. Of course.

Fortunately, I had already arranged to bring Harper's teacher her dream lunch today as well, so it wasn't a complete bust. I also extended the kindness of extra treats to my kids, because it is sometimes hard watching their mom just hand out candy and special lunches willy nilly, when you are getting the same old turkey on wheat that you always get. 

Jay, in particular, seems to be enduring the greatest temptations. 

He starts off strong, ready to give joyfully, then crumbles upon learning that he will not be getting his dream lunch any time soon.

He starts off strong, ready to give joyfully, then crumbles upon learning that he will not be getting his dream lunch any time soon.

You can see the evolution of emotions he experiences as we wait for Mrs. Mendicino's dream lunch.

We start here with a relatively strong smile and willing participation.

We start here with a relatively strong smile and willing participation.

He starts to realize that maybe he doesn't care to wait here for something he won't be enjoying, but the one side of his mouth still has enough fortitude to muster half a fake smile.

He starts to realize that maybe he doesn't care to wait here for something he won't be enjoying, but the one side of his mouth still has enough fortitude to muster half a fake smile.

Here we have stage three, as you can see the clenched and extended neck area shows building emotional distress, head thrown back in exasperation, but feelings are being stuffed in hopes that forced politeness will earn a handsome reward.

Here we have stage three, as you can see the clenched and extended neck area shows building emotional distress, head thrown back in exasperation, but feelings are being stuffed in hopes that forced politeness will earn a handsome reward.

Reality sets in. Hopes are dashed. Fake smile, and entire face, disappear behind the goods. Tantrum ensues.

Reality sets in. Hopes are dashed. Fake smile, and entire face, disappear behind the goods. Tantrum ensues.

So, I resolved to really let them enjoy some extra dessert tonight. My friend Nan had so graciously made our family an apple crisp, and the kids were looking forward to having some after dinner. Apparently, Annalee discovered that I had "taste tested" a small bit, and sent a very clear message that she was watching.

Even though my hot chocolate mission was a fail because there wasn't a crossing guard there to guard all the crossing, I didn't report the old man who had clearly abandoned his post. I am not sure if that is kindness or negligence on my part, but we can just call this one a draw.

I really can't believe that we only have four days left of October. I have gotten a lot of messages from people expressing regret that they just learned what #AdamsActs is all about, and they feel as though they missed the opportunity. I am toying with the idea of making #AdamsActs an all year thing. I would continue to particpate at this level only in October, but I have been asked to speak about this movement in November, and I love the idea of issuing different schools, different communities, different churches, teams, organizations... the challenge of doing one full month of kindness throughout the year. I know why I do it in October, but there is no reason that I can't challenge other groups of people to do it any time of year. So, whatchya think guys? Can you think of a youth group, or a small group, or a neighborhood, or a book club, etc. that might be up for taking charge of a month? If thousands of people can spread this much kindness in the month of October, how many more people could #catchthekindness throughout the year? A wise and beautiful woman with an unbeleivable heart of gold (yes, that's you Sue Delgatti) said to me, "When this month is over, I am going to keep #AdamsActs going. I say #ContinueTheKindness." I like how Sue thinks.

I don't know what this would look like, but I know that my life's mission is to share this story of redemption with as many people as the Lord wants to put in front of me. I truly believe that God takes the worst of us, the worst of our experiences, the worst of our pain... and transforms it into something purposeful and beautiful if we allow him to. My passion is to share that truth with as many people as possible. So, if you have a group that could benefit from the good news that redemption and healing are possible, I wold love to share this story and invite others to join in the movement to be more actively and intentionally kind. I believe that we should give sacrificially, but joyfully. We should give 'til it hurts a little, then do it anyway, knowing that ultimate joy comes from loving and serving others ahead of ourselves. Don't we all feel a little tantrum-y like Jay when we really give big? And I have to be honest, the thought of pouring my story out year round is just about enough to make me throw myself on the floor and roll around a little... but I also know that some stories are just too big to confine to 31 days. Some things - like radical kindness, like overcoming grief, like sharing life with others - just might need to happen all year long.

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If you are interested in booking a speaking event, or have a group in mind that might be interested in participating in #AdamsActs for one month in 2017, contact Lara here.